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Montreal school board launching new English school that is completely online

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As the start of the new school season is less than a week away, a Montreal school board is set to launch a new virtual school for select students who want to take their learning online.

Starting this week, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is opening registration for the Quebec Virtual Academy, which will be eligible to certain students who meet specific criteria set by the Ministry of Education.

The online learning model will be open to students with a "long-term medical condition" who can't attend class for health reasons on the condition they provide a note from a health-care professional from the last three months.

The academy will also be open to some students who are in a Sports-études program and don't have access to specific courses where they are studying. Students in rural areas who lack access to specific courses and where transportation to an alternative school is not an option will also be eligible.

The EMSB said this new model was inspired by remote learning during the pandemic which gave students access to education while mitigating infection concerns.

"It became very clear that there are students with medical issues, not necessarily related to COVID, who didn't have this option before. So now we're going to be able to allow them to have this really terrific opportunity," said Mike Cohen, a school board spokesperson. "Of course, it has to be deemed by a medical professional. It's not just an automatic call us and we'll sign you up."

The program will be offered to students in the English system from kindergarten to Grade 11 and teachers will be soon be assigned to virtual learning. Registration is expected to be launched on the EMSB website in the coming days.

Cohen believes the program is a first in Quebec.

"This would be the first of its kind that I know of because it's far-reaching," he said. "It's not just related to medical conditions. It really opens up a door to students who need this and we're going to be working with our sister boards across the province to ensure they let their populations know that this wonderful option exists."

RETURN TO IN-PERSON LEARNING 

For some students, a school that is entirely online might seem like an appealing option, especially for those with compromised immune systems. Immunocompromised students used to have automatic access to online learning under the province's emergency measures but that is no longer the case.

Students in an elementary school get ready for class as Quebec students get back to school in Montreal on Tuesday, January 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

As the return to in-person learning starts for the school year, public health officials say there is no need to completely shut down a classroom in the case of an outbreak.

This directive comes as officials said Wednesday this year's back-to-school season will be the safest one yet in two years with protection from COVID-19 from a previous infection during the seventh wave or recent vaccination — or both.

During a news conference on the COVID-19 situation, officials said transmission isn't largely happening in the classroom.

"Most of the time it was not school. It was actually household transmission because you’re actually more likely to spend time within your household," said Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, who sits on the Quebec Immunization Committee.

Dr. Marie-France Raynault, a senior public health advisor to Quebec's health ministry, also told reporters, "there's no reason from a public health basis to close a school.

To help mitigate the spread of the virus this fall, the province is supplying schools with 14 million rapid tests and is supposed to install 90,000 CO2 monitors to test air quality in classrooms by December.

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